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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : 1 Corinthians 15:29-34

Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 15:29-34

29. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

29. Quid alioqui facient qui baptizantur pro mortuis, si omnino mortui non resurgunt? quid etiam baptizantur pro mortuis?

30. And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?

30. Quid etiam nos periclitamur omni hora?

31. I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

31. Quotidie morior per nostram gloriam, fratres, quam habeo in Christo Iesu Domino nostro.

32. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.

32. Si secundum hominem pugnavi ad bestias Ephesi, quid mihi prodest? edamus et bibamus: eras enim moriemur.

33. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

33. Ne erretis: Mores honestos corrumpunt mala colloquia.

34. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

34. Evigilate juste, et ne peccetis: ignorantiam enim Dei quidam habent: ad pudorem vobis incutiendum dico.

29. Else what shall they do He resumes his enumeration of the absurdities, which follow from the error under which the Corinthians labored. He had set himself in the outset to do this, but he introduced instruction and consolation, by means of which he interrupted in some degree the thread of his discourse. To this he now returns. In the first place he brings forward this objection -- that the baptism which those received who are already regarded as dead, will be of no avail if there is no resurrection. Before expounding this passage, it is of importance to set aside the common exposition, which rests upon the authority of the ancients, and is received with almost universal consent. Chrysostom, therefore, and Ambrose, who are followed by others, are of opinion that the Corinthians were accustomed, when any one had been deprived of baptism by sudden death, to substitute some living person in the place of the deceased -- to be baptized at his grave. They at the same time do not deny that this custom was corrupt, and full of superstition, but they say that Paul, for the purpose of confuting the Corinthians, was contented with this single fact, that while they denied that there was a resurrection, they in the mean time declared in this way that they believed in it. For my part, however, I cannot by any means be persuaded to believe this, for it is not to be credited, that those who denied that there was a resurrection had, along with others, made use of a custom of this sort. Paul then would have had immediately this reply made to him: |Why do you trouble us with that old wives' superstition, which you do not yourself approve of?| Farther, if they had made use of it, they might very readily have replied: |If this has been hitherto practiced by us through mistake, rather let the mistake be corrected, than that it should have weight attached to it for proving a point of such importance.|

Granting, however, that the argument was conclusive, can we suppose that, if such a corruption as this had prevailed among the Corinthians, the Apostle, after reproving almost all their faults, would have been silent as to this one? He has censured above some practices that are not of so great moment. He has not scrupled to give directions as to women's having the head covered, and other things of that nature. Their corrupt administration of the Supper he has not merely reproved, but has inveighed against it with the greatest keenness. Would he in the meantime have uttered not a single word in reference to such a base profanation of baptism, which was a much more grievous fault? He has inveighed with great vehemence against those who, by frequenting the banquets of the Gentiles, silently countenanced their superstitions. Would he have suffered this horrible superstition of the Gentiles to be openly carried on in the Church itself under the name of sacred baptism? But granting that he might have been silent, what shall we say when he expressly makes mention of it? Is it, I pray you, a likely thing that the Apostle would bring forward in the shape of an argument a sacrilege by which baptism was polluted, and converted into a mere magical abuse, and yet not say even one word in condemnation of the fault? When he is treating of matters that are not of the highest importance, he introduces nevertheless this parenthesis, that he speaks as a man. (Romans 3:5; Romans 6:19; Galatians 3:15.) Would not this have been a more befitting and suitable place for such a parenthesis? Now from his making mention of such a thing without any word of reproof, who would not understand it to be a thing that was allowed? For my part, I assuredly understand him to speak here of the right use of baptism, and not of an abuse of it of that nature.

Let us now inquire as to the meaning. At one time I was of opinion, that Paul here pointed out the universal design of baptism, for the advantage of baptism is not confined to this life; but on considering the words afterwards with greater care, I perceived that Paul here points out something peculiar. For he does not speak of all when he says, What shall they do, who are baptized? etc. Besides, I am not fond of interpretations, that are more ingenious than solid. What then? I say, that those are baptized for dead, who are looked upon as already dead, and who have altogether despaired of life; and in this way the particle huper will have the force of the Latin pro, as when we say, habere pro derelicto; -- to reckon as abandoned This signification is not a forced one. Or if you would prefer another signification, to be baptized for the dead will mean -- to be baptized so as to profit the dead -- not the living, Now it is well known, that from the very commencement of the Church, those who had, while yet catechumens, fallen into disease, if their life was manifestly in danger, were accustomed to ask baptism, that they might not leave this world before they had made a profession of Christianity; and this, in order that they might carry with them the seal of their salvation.

It appears from the writings of the Fathers, that as to this matter, also, there crept in afterwards a superstition, for they inveigh against those who delayed baptism till the time of their death, that, being once for all purged from all their sins, they might in this state meet the judgment of God. A gross error truly, which proceeded partly from great ignorance, and partly from hypocrisy! Paul, however, here simply mentions a custom that was sacred, and in accordance with the Divine institution -- that if a catechumen, who had already in his heart embraced the Christian faith, saw that death was impending over him, he asked baptism, partly for his own consolation, and partly with a view to the edification of his brethren. For it is no small consolation to carry the token of his salvation sealed in his body. There is also an edification, not to be lost sight of -- that of making a confession of his faith. They were, then, baptized for the dead, inasmuch as it could not be of any service to them in this world, and the very occasion of their asking baptism was that they despaired of life. We now see that it is not without good reason that Paul asks, what they would do if there remained no hope after death? This passage shows us, too, that those impostors who had disturbed the faith of the Corinthians, had contrived a figurative resurrection, making the farthest goal of believers to be in this world, His repeating it a second time, Why are they also baptized for the dead? gives it greater emphasis: |Not only are those baptized who think that they are to live longer, but those too who have death before their eyes; and that, in order that they may in death reap the fruit of their baptism.|

30. Why are we also? |If our resurrection and ultimate felicity are in this world, why do we of our own accord abandon it, and voluntarily encounter death?| The argument might also be unfolded in this manner: |To no purpose would we stand in peril every hour, if we did not look for a better life, after death has been passed through.| He speaks, however, of voluntary dangers, to which believers expose their lives for the purpose of confessing Christ. |This magnanimity of soul, I say, in despising death, would be ascribed to rashness rather than firmness, if the saints perished at death, for it is a diabolical madness to purchase by death an immortal fame.^|

31. I die daily Such a contempt of death he declares to be in himself, that he may not seem to talk bravely when beyond the reach of danger. |I am every day,| says he, |incessantly beset with death. What madness were it in me to undergo so much misery, if there were no reward in reserve for me in heaven? Nay more, if my glory and bliss lie in this world, why do I not rather enjoy them, than of my own accord resign them?| He says that he dies daily, because he was constantly beset with dangers so formidable and so imminent, that death in a manner was impending over him. A similar expression occurs in Psalm 44:22, and we shall, also, find one of the same kind occurring in the second Epistle. (2 Corinthians 11:23.)

By our glory. The old translation reads propter, (because of,) but it has manifestly arisen from the ignorance of transcribers; for in the Greek particle there is no ambiguity. It is then an oath, by which he wished to arouse the Corinthians, to be more attentive in listening to him, when reasoning as to the matter in hand. |Brethren, I am not some philosopher prattling in the shade. As I expose myself every day to death, it is necessary that I should think in good earnest of the heavenly life. Believe, therefore, a man who is thoroughly experienced.|

It is also a form of oath that is not common, but is suited to the subject in hand. Corresponding to this was that celebrated oath of Demosthenes, which is quoted by Fabius, when he swore by the Shades of those who had met death in the field of Marathon, while his object was to exhort them to defend the Republic. So in like manner Paul here swears by the glory which Christians have in Christ. Now that glory is in heaven. He shows, then, that what they called in question was a matter of which he was so well assured, that he was prepared to make use of a sacred oath -- a display of skill which must be carefully noticed.

32. If according to the manner of men He brings forward a notable instance of death, from which it might be clearly seen that he would have been worse than a fool, if there were not a better life in reserve for us beyond death; for it was an ignominious kind of death to which he was exposed. |To what purpose were it,| says he, |for me to incur infamy in connection with a most cruel death, if all my hopes were confined to this world?| According to the manner of men, means in this passage, in respect of human life, so that we obtain a reward in this world.

Now by those that fought with beasts, are meant, not those that were thrown to wild beasts, as Erasmus mistakingly imagined, but those that were condemned to be set to fight with wild beasts -- to furnish an amusement to the people. There were, then, two kinds of punishment, that were totally different -- to be thrown to wild beasts, and to fight with wild beasts. For those that were thrown to wild beasts were straightway torn in pieces; but those that fought with wild beasts went forth armed into the arena, that if they were endued with strength, courage, and agility, they might effect their escape by dispatching the wild beasts. Nay more, there was a game in which those who fought with wild beasts were trained, like the gladiators Usually, however, very few escaped, because the man who had dispatched one wild beast, was required to fight with a second, until the cruelty of the spectators was satiated, or rather was melted into pity; and yet there were found men so abandoned and desperate, as to hire themselves out for this! And this, I may remark by the way, is that kind of hunting that is punished so severely by the ancient canons, as even civil laws brand it with a mark of infamy.

I return to Paul. We see what an extremity God allowed his servant to come to, and how wonderfully, too, he rescued him. Luke, however, makes no mention of this fight. Hence we may infer that he endured many things that have not been committed to writing.

Let us eat and drink This is a saying of the Epicureans, who reckon man's highest good as consisting in present enjoyment. Isaiah also testifies that it is a saying made use of by profligate persons, (Isaiah 22:13,) who, when the Prophets of God threaten them with ruin, with the view of calling them to repentance, making sport of those threatenings, encourage themselves in wantonness and unbridled mirth, and in order to show more openly their obstinacy, say, |Since die we must, let us meanwhile enjoy the time, and not torment ourselves before the time with empty fears.| As to what a certain General said to his army, |My fellowsoldiers, let us dine heartily, for we shall sup to-day in the regions below,| that was an exhortation to meet death with intrepidity, and has nothing to do with this subject. I am of opinion, that Paul made use of a jest in common use among abandoned and desperately wicked persons, or (to express it shortly) a common proverb among the Epicureans to the following purpose: |If death is the end of man, there is nothing better than that he should indulge in pleasure, free from care, so long as life lasts.| Sentiments of this kind are to be met with frequently in Horace.

33. Be not deceived. Evil communications corrupt good manners As nothing is easier than to glide into profane speculation, under the pretext of inquiring, he meets this danger, by warning them that evil communications have more effect than we might suppose, in polluting our minds and corrupting our morals. To show this, he makes use of a quotation from the poet Menander, as we are at liberty to borrow from every quarter everything that has come forth from God. And as all truth is from God, there is no doubt that the Lord has put into the mouth of the wicked themselves, whatever contains true and salutary doctrine. I prefer, however, that, for the handling of this subject, recourse should be had to Basil's Oration to the Young. Paul, then, being aware that this proverb was in common use among the Greeks, chose rather to make use of it, that it might make its way into their minds more readily, than to express the same thing in his own words. For they would more readily receive what they had been accustomed to -- as we have experience of in proverbs with which we are familiar.

Now it is a sentiment that is particularly worthy of attention, for Satan, when he cannot make a direct assault upon us, deludes us under this pretext, that there is nothing wrong in our raising any kind of disputation with a view to the investigation of truth. Here, therefore, Paul in opposition to this, warns us that we must guard against evil communications, as we would against the most deadly poison, because, insinuating themselves secretly into our minds, they straightway corrupt our whole life. Let us, then, take notice, that nothing is more pestilential than corrupt doctrine and profane disputations, which draw us off, even in the smallest degree, from a right and simple faith; for it is not without good reason that Paul exhorts us not to be deceived.

34. Awake righteously As he saw that the Corinthians were in a manner intoxicated, through excessive carelessness, he arouses them from their torpor. By adding, however, the adverb righteously, he intimates in what way he would have them wake up For they were sufficiently attentive and clear-sighted as to their own affairs: nay more, there can be no doubt that they congratulated themselves on their acuteness; but in the mean time they were drowsy, where they ought most of all to have been on the watch. He says accordingly, awake righteously -- that is, |Direct your mind and aim to things that are good and holy.|

He adds at the same time the reason, -- For some, says he, among you are in ignorance of God This required to be stated: otherwise they might have thought that the admonition was unnecessary; for they looked upon themselves as marvellously wise. Now he convicts them of ignorance of God, that they may know that the main thing was wanting in them. A useful admonition to those who lay out all their agility in flying through the air, while in the mean time they do not see what is before their feet, and are stupid where they ought, most of all, to have been clear-sighted.

To your shame Just as fathers, when reproving their children for their faults, put them to shame, in order that they may by that shame cover their shame. When, however, he declared previously that he did not wish to shame them, (1 Corinthians 4:14,) his meaning was that he did not wish to hold them up to disgrace, by bringing forward their faults to public view in a spirit of enmity and hatred. In the mean time, however, it was of advantage for them to be sharply reproved, as they were still indulging themselves in evils of such magnitude. Now Paul in reproaching them with ignorance of God, strips them entirely of all honor.

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